AOn Monday evening, at the New Year's reception in the city of Eisenach, Thuringia's Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow made Mayor Katja Wolf an offer that was either tempting or poisonous, depending on your point of view. “I regret that you are leaving the city, I understand that you are now going your own way,” he said to Wolf.

Stefan Locke

Correspondent for Saxony and Thuringia based in Dresden.

To then entice: “If you want, you can come to my cabinet!” That was more than surprising, also because it was not at all clear which cabinet Ramelow was referring to, and especially not which party Wolf should become minister for .

Ramelow disappointed and outraged

It wasn't even three weeks ago that Ramelow was almost beside himself with indignation that, in his words, Wolf had abandoned him. The 47-year-old left-wing politician had just announced that she would no longer run for mayor in the local elections in June, but would instead join the Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance (BSW).

Ramelow's disappointment and indignation were also so great because Wolf had always publicly assured, practically until the day before the news, that he would remain a member of the Left, but also because she is a political asset in the Thuringian Left universe. The married mother of two children has been mayor for twelve years and vice president of the German Association of Cities for five years, but above all she always performs above average in elections.

There was no bloodletting among the left

For Sahra Wagenknecht, Wolf's defection is undoubtedly a coup. Wolf is to become the top candidate for the state elections on September 1st in the BSW state association in Thuringia, which has yet to be founded. Celebrities and, above all, local faces are also necessary for this because Wagenknecht comes from Jena in Thuringia, but will not be running in the state elections himself, but wants to concentrate on the federal elections next year. When she left the Left parliamentary group in the Bundestag last fall, only West German MPs followed her. At the time, Wagenknecht had expressed the desire to run with her own party in the state elections in Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia, but at the same time restricted the fact that she needed stable structures for this, i.e. state associations with reliable staff.

However, the – perhaps – hoped for personnel loss on the Left did not materialize. With the exception of individual local politicians, no leftist in the East took Wagenknecht's side, on the contrary. Already in the summer, when rumors about founding a party began to spread, all Saxon federal and state parliament members had signed a declaration that they did not want to go with Wagenknecht under any circumstances. “We stick together and stand together for a more social and fair country,” it said. With 7,000 members, Saxony's Left is the largest regional association in the East, and so far, unlike in Thuringia, no prominent Left member has taken Wagenknecht's side. Especially not from the state parliamentary group in Dresden, which has always been suspicious of Wagenknecht's ego trips. And among young leftists, it is met with rejection anyway with its mixture of immigration skepticism and loyalty to Moscow, which is inevitably reminiscent of the SED.

The surveys are good for the BSW

So it is that in Saxony only the former left-wing Bundestag member Sabine Zimmermann has appeared as Wagenknecht's semi-prominent mouthpiece. The 63-year-old politician, who used to be a member of the SPD, is supposed to set up the BSW in the Free State and has announced that she wants to run in local elections. Wagenknecht himself, in turn, issued the order to keep out crazy people and only accept well-screened members and to put forward candidates who are potentially capable of governing. Zimmermann spoke on MDR of 300 people in Saxony who were interested in the party. In Werdau in southwest Saxony, where she is a city councilor, three left-wing city councilors followed her to the BSW. In nearby Zwickau, four representatives of the seven-member Left faction defected to the BSW, making the new party's first municipal group there.

In Thuringia too, with the exception of Katja Wolf, only a few local politicians defected to the BSW. That could change if the BSW's chances against the Left increase. Initial surveys show that – contrary to what was initially assumed – the left in the East in particular could lose voters to Wagenknecht. According to the BSW Infratest dimap, in Saxony it would do twice as well as the Left with eight percent, and in Thuringia, according to INSA, the party would be just ahead of the Left with 17 percent, which would only get 15 percent. Compared to the state elections five years ago, the result of the Left in Thuringia would have been practically halved.

Given these prospects, it is clear why Ramelow reacted so sensitively to Wolf's departure and would have liked to keep her on the left, “in Team Bodo”, even as a campaigner. But Wolf had recently made it clear in an interview with the FAZ that her decision was irrefutable. “The fact that the state government, but also the federal government, is no longer aware of how work is going in the municipalities has alienated me from the left and is a programmatic wrong path.” She will therefore compete with the BSW and fight for a new beginning. Because the BSW also has the chance to break the political blockade between the AfD, CDU and the Left that has existed in Erfurt since 2019. It cannot be ruled out that Wolf will actually become a minister in Thuringia after the state elections in the fall, although probably not with Ramelow as head of government.